The Pandemic Painting Project by Claudia Hoag McGarry

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased to offer a series of notecards by local artist Claudia Hoag McGarry based on her paintings of beautifully diverse aspects of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. The images are part of an extensive “Pandemic Project” Claudia began in Spring 2020. At this point, Claudia has created over 300 paintings, and she continues to paint, almost daily.

The artist, Claudia Hoag McGarry

We asked Claudia for more information about her project and her passion for painting. Below are portions of that interview, edited for length.

Q: How did this project begin? Have you always painted? Or is this something that began with the pandemic?

A: My sister and my husband both had the idea simultaneously to give me art supplies. So, without having even asked for them, I received canvases, watercolor paints, acrylics and watercolor paper. Quarantine and Covid had begun to inch its way into all of our lives. So, I started painting. I had hardly painted since I was 20 and in college. I only took one art class in my 20s. It was figure drawing.

The Presidio Northeast Corner, by Claudia Hoag McGarry

Q: Tell us about your process.

A: All through my 300 paintings from 4/4/2020 to 11/4/2020, I painted when I awoke. Early, around 6 am, I make my coffee, turn on the news, or sometimes just music, watch the light come through the windows where we live near the ocean bluffs on the Mesa, and I paint. It usually takes me 2-3 hours per painting and somedays I do 2 a day.

Claudia paints in her living room and keeps the paintings on display around the room as she works.

Q: How would you describe the meaning of this project for you during this time?

A: This was something of a gift. It was a gift to me because I learned that in the 43 years that I had not painted, now I was flourishing and happy as a painter. It was therapeutic during a stressful time of this awful societal illness and political upheaval. But, equally satisfying was the reaction I received from many friends on social media. People started praising my work and finally, 2 weeks after posting daily, someone asked me if that day’s work was for sale. Within 3 months I had sold 60 paintings. They were going everywhere: NY, Texas, Poland, Utah, etc.

Among other places, Claudia finds inspiration on the Mesa in Santa Barbara, where she lives near the ocean.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

A: I taught English Skills at SBCC [Santa Barbara City College] for 32 years. I also have had three novels published and four plays produced, some shown at the Alhecama [Theatre in El Presidio SHP]! I have optioned a television pilot and written screenplays. We raised three children into adulthood who are all very caring, smart, artistic and musical. My husband is a talented musician. Moving on to painting seems only natural in how my life has progressed. It happened so organically. I feel so fortunate in every way. I am thrilled and humbled to share my art with your wonderful organization.

You can find Claudia’s Santa Barbara Presidio series notecards here.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Gift Shop sales are online only, and we offer both shipping and curbside pickup. 

Natural landscapes also inspire the artist. Painting by Claudia McGarry

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